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I have seen some confusing information online. I am looking into postdoc positions at Caltech (Pasadena, CA). From my understanding, the annual salaries are somewhere in the 55k - 60 k range. What kind of taxes apply, though? I've seen conflicting information, and am quite confused.

Here it seems that some of Caltech are exempt from federal tax, but I am not sure if this applies to postdoc researchers.

Also, how does one being a foreigner (with a work VISA) affect taxation?

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    It is likely that Caltech has an office that can give you specific information about your case.
    – Buffy
    Jun 23 '20 at 16:14
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    @Buffy Most likely, they will say that they cannot give legal advice.
    – user151413
    Jun 23 '20 at 16:38
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    I think you're on the wrong page of Caltech's website - your link has to do with the university's own finances, and the taxes that the university as an organization does or doesn't pay. None of that is relevant to your personal taxes. They have a page about individual taxes specifically for international scholars at international.caltech.edu/taxes/Considerations, which I think is the kind of information that you want. Jun 23 '20 at 23:10
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The National Postdoc Association has an Overview of Tax Issues for Postdocs that may be a good starting point.

Here it seems that some of Caltech are exempt from federal tax, but I am not sure if this applies to postdoc researchers.

This just means that Caltech itself is exempt from paying income tax. By default (that is, unless there's a tax treaty), a postdoc receiving money to cover living expenses will pay tax on their income. In California there would be both federal and state income tax.

Also, how does one being a foreigner (with a work VISA) affect taxation?

This can depend on whether there is a relevant tax treaty or not, and how long they've been present inside US borders. See e.g. International Postdoc Survival Guide - Beginner's Guide to Income Taxes for International Postdocs for resources.

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First off, postdoc salary levels at Caltech vary widely by department.

Regarding taxes, there are tax treaties between the US and a lot of other countries. For some of these countries, these treaties have special regulations for (postdoctoral) researchers staying for less than a certain time (e.g. 2 years): If you move to the US from such a country (not your home country, but that of your last residence), you remain tax resident of that country, so your postdoc salary remains taxable in that country, rather than the US. (Note that you still have to pay state taxes in California, but these are rather low.) I think the philosophy is that you do not give up your residence in said country, but only come for a "long visit". There are various rules whether you can choose where you tax your income or not, and what happens if you exceed the period of time for which you are subject to this tax exemption, which differ by country of origin, so essentially you have to check the relevant tax treaty. (Notably, with some tax treaties, if you exceed that time you have to tax all of your income in the US retroactively.)

As an example, here is an excerpt from the US-German tax treaty (2006 Amendment, Article XI):

Remuneration that a professor or teacher who is a resident of a Contracting State and who is temporarily present in the other Contracting State for the primary purpose of carrying out advanced study or research or for teaching at an accredited university or other recognized educational institution, or an institution engaged in research for the public benefit, receives for such work shall be taxable only in the first-mentioned Contracting State for a period not exceeding two years from the date of his arrival.

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